JABO: Josh Donaldson’s Rogers Centre(d) Approach

For the past two years, there’s been a dark horse in the MVP race. Though he might never had a shot at winning the award with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout putting up the types of seasons they did, Josh Donaldson has nonetheless been one of the best players in baseball since the start of 2013. This year, we’re witnessing an interesting development: a plate approach adjustment to take advantage of the offense-friendly Rogers Centre.

We’ve gotten accustomed to seeing a high level of production out of Donaldson since August of 2012: above average walks, a lot of power and elite defense. His offensive output was tempered in 2013 and 2014 by the fact that he had to play his home games in pitcher-friendly Oakland; the prevailing thought was that moving to the Rogers Centre in 2015 could possibly vault him into an even higher echelon among power hitters.

At the midpoint of this season, that’s exactly what has happened. Take a look at Donaldson’s yearly stats since the start of 2013, the first year he was the productive hitter we see today:

2013 11.4% 16.5% .301 .384 .499 .199 .333 147
2014 10.9% 18.7% .255 .342 .456 .201 .278 129
2015 7.7% 19.7% .295 .352 .529 .234 .322 142

A few things of note this season: Donaldson’s strikeouts are up, his walks are down a fair amount and his power is more substantial. We tend to see walk rates improve as players age, so this is a little strange. What could be causing his drop in free passes? Let’s look at Donaldson’s stats away from Rogers Centre this year:

Season Home / Away BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP wRC+
2015 Away 11.0% 19.2% .227 .316 .360 .133 .257 92

His rate stats look in line with his career norms since 2013, but everything else has been pulled down in some part by bad batted-ball luck. How about his stats this year at Rogers Centre?

Season Home / Away BB% K% AVG OBP SLG ISO BABIP wRC+
2015 Home 4.7% 20.2% .352 .383 .670 .318 .380 186

There we have it. Compared to his overall stats the past two years, he’s basically not walking, he’s striking out more and he’s hitting for much more power when he’s playing at home. What we seem to be seeing is a different approach when Donaldson is in Toronto — one that allows him to take advantage of his home park’s natural power-boosting tendencies. Let’s go into the reasons for the numbers.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.

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Max G
8 years ago

About the drop in walk rate, reminds me of when A-Rod switched from the M’s to the Rangers. In 2000, in his 5th full season with the Mariners, A-Rod’s walk rate was 14.9%, and it increased in each of the previous 2 seasons. The following season, with the Rangers, in a more hitter-friendly park, his walk rate decreased to 10.2%. He didn’t reach the 2000 rate again until 2009 with the Yankees, despite that walk rate generally increases with age.

I’m not saying Donaldson is A-Rod, but this drop in walk-rate when switching teams made me think of what happened when A-Rod switched to a hitter-friendly park.

Does changing to hitter-friendly parks make all hitters take a more aggressive approach at the plate, or do only the occasional elite hitters do this?